Surviving the Scheme: Rosie Smith, R&D UFLP

So I find myself writing this blog whilst I wait for my flight out to one of Unilever’s regional deploy centres for ice cream in Caivano, Italy. I am now 10 weeks into my first placement and I have been exposed to a whole range of fabulous opportunities, including an induction week in Liverpool, training courses in London, trials in Paris and last but not least, a visit to our ice cream factory in Gloucester.

Caivano Ice Cream Factory
Caivano Ice Cream Factory, Italy

After graduating from Durham this summer in Chemistry, I am now in my first full time job and it definitely beats university exams and a lack of income. I did carry out an industrial placement with another company for my final year but like quite a few UFLPs, I am completely new to the world of Unilever. I specifically applied for the R&D UFLP as I wanted to get away from academia but still use my scientific knowledge and skillset within the FMCG industry. Unilever’s history and brands speak for themselves but I was particularly inspired by the USLP and Unilever’s commitment to the long term future of the planet. Combining this with the development opportunities, variability and challenges the management scheme provides drove me to apply and I’m not regretting it so far.

As an R&D UFLP, you will work on 4-6 placements over a 2-3 year period where you are encouraged to explore different categories, job roles and functions. Your first placement will be selected for you but after that you can have a say on where you see your Unilever career developing and build it around your personal development plan. I was lucky enough to be placed in ice cream for my first placement and so I am based at our Colworth site. The site itself is located in a tiny village called Sharnbrook and so I have moved to Bedford, the nearest major town. Being flexible and moving around the country (and potentially abroad if you’re lucky) is a big part of the job but you are provided with a lot of house searching support from a relocation agency. There are 9 R&D UFLPs in my year and we have been split up over the three main R&D sites in the UK; Port Sunlight, Leeds and Colworth. Even though we all spent our first week together as part of a UFLP induction in Leatherhead and Port Sunlight, once you start your role you become fully immersed in on-going projects with your own targets, responsibilities and deadlines. However the support network is still always there and we try to arrange bimonthly catch ups as well as regular lunches with UFLPs who are based at the same site: this is particularly useful when you start to think about your next role as you can see what everyone else is up to.

Colworth Science Park- home of R&D refreshment
Colworth Science Park- home of R&D refreshment

My current role is as a technologist on ice cream product development; this has been a great placement to start with as I’ve been exposed to so many different aspects of the company and the challenges that come with trying to harmonise them all. I work closely with brand development, supply chain, packaging, ice cream research teams, suppliers, whilst also keeping on top of cost, nutrition, pilot plant trials, etc. There is definitely no standard day at work as I often split my time between the office, pilot plant, meetings and occasional away days. The job itself is relatively flexible and you can tailor it around your background and previous work experience. However the challenge of working on completely new subject matter is also part of the process and so being able to adapt, learn and face new tasks is a vital skill to have. After completing a degree in chemistry, a lot of people ask whether I utilise it at all in R&D for ice cream and the answer is yes. Although I haven’t needed to reference the periodic table at any point so far, the way in which I approach projects is done in a very similar way to laboratory work and I am often required to quickly get up to speed with the technical side of my work by reading and understanding scientific literature. The current project I am on requires me to digest a lot of technical information and apply it to real life product developments. This year’s current R&D UFLPs have studied a range of subjects, including chemical engineering, biology, neuroscience and biochemistry; some have PhD’s whilst some have come straight from their undergraduate degree. This hopefully highlights how there is no real stereotype and Unilever’s R&D function thrives on having people from all kind of backgrounds.

Unilever’s work structure is based on employees working towards 3 main goals and an additional +1 role throughout the year. UFLPs operate slightly differently in the way that they get given 3 new goals for each 6 month placement which will be set between yourself and your line manager. For my +1 role, I am part of the digital recruitment team for the UFLP where I manage and run this blogsite. This is a great way to experience yet another side of Unilever, work with people from different functions and display some more of the Unilever Standards of Leadership. It also means that if you have any queries/comments from any blogs that interest you, please do comment and I shall aim to respond as quickly as possible.

My favourite thing about Unilever, apart from the free supply of ice cream, has to be the people. Starting a new job in a new location and in an unfamiliar subject area will definitely take you out of your comfort zone but so far the people I have worked with have made the transition most enjoyable. Once you reach out, everyone is more than willing to get you up to speed on how daily work life operates in the office and my top tip for settling in is simply talking to people and building a strong network. Maintaining a decent work life balance is of paramount importance and the support Unilever has in place for its employees is also endless. In terms of application tips, I would say that to really succeed and make it through the process you have to show that you are of the Unilever mind set. Interviewers are looking for honest, enthusiastic, committed, flexible, forward thinking applicants that will fit in with the Unilever way of working. So that’s it for now but as I said, if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch. This site is run by real life grads and so if I can’t answer your question, I will endeavour to find someone who can 🙂



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